STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

The high cost of inequality in our schools

Equity and Excellence Commission

 We know, and have known for some time, that not every child in America gets the same shot at a good education. We know that children with darker skin are the ones most likely to get left behind. 

For the past two years, a 27-member commission has quietly been working on a report to suggest ways for the federal government to address the problem. The group, known as the Equity and Excellence Commission, released its final report to education secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday. 

The report has recommendations in five main areas. You can read them all here. 

But what I found most surprising is that the commission attempted to actually put a dollar figure on how much educational inequality is costing our country. And the cost is measured in trillions

  • $50 trillion - That's how much we'd add to the U.S. economy in present value terms, if we raised the achievement levels of Hispanic and African American students to the level white students are at today and kept it there for 80 years. 
  • 20 percent raise for every American worker - If we raised overall math achievement in the U.S. to the level that Canada is at now, the report estimates it would raise earnings for everyone in America, and the effect on our GDP would be enough to solve the nation's debt crisis.
  • $6.6 billion per year - That's how much we'd add to earnings if we just increased the high school graduation rate for African American and Hispanic children to 90 percent. 

The commission's recommendation's won't be easy to enact. The first recommendation would mean a complete overhaul of the nation's school funding model. 
What's clear is that if we don't find some way to address the issue of inequality in schools, we will pay a heavy price. 

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.
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